The Colorful World of Jacques Cousteau

Joanne Reid

Jacques-Yves Cousteau died on June 25, 1997, two weeks after his 87th birthday. His inquisitive mind was obvious from an early age. Like many bright and underchallenged children, Cousteau began to get into trouble by the time he reached high school. His parents were able to send him to an excellent boarding school where, apparently, he found more things to entertain himself. After graduation from the boarding school, he entered the Naval Academy in Brest, France.


At the age of 23, he joined the navy as a gunnery officer. Two years later, he was in a car accident that changed h

is life. His arms were injured and he took up swimming in the Mediterranean to strengthen them. A friend gave him a pair of pearl diver's goggles to use on his swimming expeditions. These goggles offered him his first view of the underwater's magnificent world. He turned his natural curiosity and high energy to the sea. His childhood fascination with machinery re-emerged and he began working on a breathing machine which would allow divers to stay underwater longer. The year after his accident, 1936, he invented a waterproof container that allowed a movie camera to film underwater.


In 1937, he married Simone Melchoir. Jacques and Simone had two sons, Jean-Michel and Phillipe. When the Second World War broke out, Jacques was still in the French navy. He was a spy as well as a sailor. Yet, he managed to continue his research and in 1943, he and French engineer Emile Gagnan came up with the Aqualung. One of its first uses was to find enemy mines in the waters around France.

Cousteau was made a capitaine de corvette of the French navy in 1948. In 1950, he became president of the French Oceanographic Campaigns. In 1961, he began serious underwater explorations in his own research vessel, Calypso. Becoming more and more intrigued by the water, Jacques began to consider ways to fund the explorations he wanted to make. Articulate and creative, he turned to film production and writing books. His films, The Silent World (1956) and World Without Sun (1966) won Academy Awards for best documentary film. He also wrote The Living Sea (1963), Dolphins (1975), and Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World (1985).

After retirement from the navy in the fifties, he was the director of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. He also founded the Underseas Research Group at Toulon and was in charge of the Conshelf Saturation Dive Program which examined the effect on people who lived and worked underwater.


From 1968 to 1976, Cousteau poured his energy into the television series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. This show made him and the underwater world household words. Towards the end of the show's run, Cousteau found himself back in the Mediterranean Sea. He was horrified by what he saw. Or, more precisely, by what he did not see. All the magnificence he'd seen decades earlier, wearing the pearl diver's goggles, had disappeared, thanks to oil spills and other disasters of current civilization . His reaction was to form The Cousteau Society with its mandate of protecting ocean life. Founded in 1974, it now has more than 300,000 members.

Motivated by curiosity, a love of humanity and joy in the living world, Cousteau poured his entire being into living his life to the fullest until the very end.


However, his life was not without its complications. Shortly after his wife, Simone, died of cancer in 1990 after 53 years of marriage, Jacques introduced his longtime mistress to the world. Jacques was 80 and she was half his age. They'd been involved since 1975 and had a daughter who was born in 1981 and a son born in 1983. They married in 1991.


Cousteau admitted that women "have taken a very big place in my life" and, according to Richard Munson, a biographer, in the 1980s when the Cousteau Almanac was being compiled, Jacques wanted to add a section on making love. Wisely, the editors talked him out of it.

His younger son from his first marriage, Phillipe, died tragically in 1979 in a plane crash. He had been the son more suited to follow in his father's footsteps. Jean-Michel, the older son, tried to fill the gap. But at the time of his father's death, the two were involved in a lawsuit over the appropriate use of the Cousteau name.

Cousteau may be gone but he left a legacy in the form of The Cousteau Society. Membership is $30 annually for an individual and $40 for a family membership. For more information write to:



The Cousteau Society, Membership Center
870 Greenbrier Circle, Suite 402
Chesapeake, VA 23320-2641.
Telephone 757/523-9335
Fax 757/523-2747
The Cousteau Society, Inc.
7, rue de l'Amiral d'Estaing
75116 Paris
Telephone 1/53 67 77 77
Telefax 1/53 67 77 71
The Cousteau Society, Inc.
P. O. Box 124
Freemantle, WA
6160 Australia
Or call the toll-free phone number 1-800-441-4395.

Joanne Reid is a freelance writer with interests in health, history, and the internet. She's written articles on topics ranging from how love can make you insane to women and crime in the 19th century. She also teaches writing through online courses and local continuing education programs. Currently she is writing an online soap and working on a mystery novel set on Prince Edward Island. She has three grown children and three grandsons. Her hobby is genealogy.
Writing courses online:
eTanglements, the online soap:
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